Amboseli Serena Lodge has won the silver prize this year for the Best Partnership for Poverty Reduction.
The award was in recognition of Serena’s support of a vegetable farming initiative that is benefitting marginalised women in local communities.
The rate of HIV/Aids infections is high among Maasai women in the Kimana region of southwest Kenya, bordering Amboseli National Park.
Charity Ndegwa, a former project officer of the Africa Pro-poor Tourism Development Centre (APTDC), explains: “The Maasai culture is traditionally polygamous, highly patriarchal and the women have little say in the decision-making that impacts their health such as safe sex, the use of condoms and HIV transmission.”
Many women from underprivileged backgrounds have only basic primary level education, and can barely afford the fresh fruit and vegetables they need to stay healthy. They also lack basic farming skills.
APTDC, in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation, created the women’s empowerment project to train women in how to produce food for their needs and sell the surplus to nearby tourist hotels. The women use the money to pay school fees, make home improvements and buy livestock.
The project started two years ago: Women aged between 35 and 50 were organised into groups and trained. Some of the vegetables are grown in greenhouses and some are cultivated in open fields.
Farmers guard their farms at night against elephants and other wildlife. At a central collection point, the goods are weighed and stored to meet the standards set by hotels. The quality is so high that Serena Amboseli Lodge, soon started purchasing fresh vegetables from the women instead of from hundreds of kilometres away.
Kilan Shah, head of procurement at Serena Hotels East Africa, described the partnership as a win-win situation. “By having produce delivered directly to the lodge very far in the bush, we’ve reduced the carbon footprint because of the lower frequency of our supply trucks journeying from Nairobi to these units.”
Speaking at the Africa Responsible Tourism Awards in April, Heidi van der Watt, the managing director of Better Tourism Africa, applauded Serena Hotels for having “a vision that extends beyond the commercial and linking business success with the wellbeing of local communities.”